Beaches and Beer

   Everyone wants to have an enjoyable spring break, and for many of us at SC4, this year could very well be our first college spring break experience. Why not make it memorable?

   I personally have many years of travel experience under my belt, and have recently returned from a venture to Cozumel, Mexico aboard the “Royal Caribbeans’ Grandeur of the Seas.”

   For those of you looking for a fun, safe and exciting adventure this spring break, I’d like to share some of my experiences with everyone and dispense some advice, to make this spring break memorable, enjoyable and even affordable!

   The first and most important step in planning a spring break vacation is planning. Flights, cruise bookings, transportation, passports, shore excursions, all need to be accounted for.

   Spring break doesn’t need to be expensive to be enjoyable. Currently cruises around spring break cost as little as 250 dollars, plus fees, all depending what you want to do.

   Most spring breakers, are looking for a party, and in my experience, I can suggest no better place than Cozumel, Mexico.

   Cozumel is a great place to start for those who are less traveled, but still want to go somewhere exotic, and in search of a good time. If you take the cruise option, you can expect to be in port for nearly 12 hours, which is plenty of time to have a blast.

   For those unfamiliar with Cozumel, it is a Mexican island in the Caribbean Sea, off of the Yucatan Peninsula. It is roughly 30 miles long and 10 miles wide, and has a population of around 75,000 people.

   The island is rich with Mayan cultural history, and is host to some of the most breathtaking scenery that one can encounter. Palm trees, white sands, and clear azure waters await visitors.

   When in Cozumel and some other tourist prone cities like Cancun, on the mainland to the North, there are some things American tourists should be aware of.

   The native language of Mexico is Spanish, but most of the locals in Cozumel speak English to some extent. The reason for this is rather simple. “Tourism,” Jose Carlos, my tour guide in Cozumel said, “is our industry. It’s not ‘an’ industry it’s our ‘only’ industry.”

   This is convenient for Americans who do not know Spanish however it should not be abused, and assumed that the person you are talking to understands everything you are saying to them in English. Be courteous, and if necessary speak slower and clearer so that what you’re saying is understood.

   Knowing some Spanish doesn’t hurt either. Though it isn’t expected for tourists to know the native tongue, doing so will earn you much more respect and it will not go unrewarded.

   Haggling is a common practice for store owners, and if you negotiate in their language, you might walk away with some better deals than your strictly English speaking companions.

   Transportation is a factor that should be taken into serious consideration. After experiencing it firsthand, I can say that driving is something best left to the professionals.

   Rental vehicles are available on the island, but many of the places that you will want to visit, unless you are going on a tour, or to one of the remote beaches, are in close proximity to each other.

   Taxis are very inexpensive, in many cases less than 10 dollars for four people to go anywhere on the island. Traffic in Cozumel runs rather quickly and if you are unprepared, or intoxicated, as you may find is the case, you may find yourself in trouble.

   Plus the dust on the country roads is a considerable nuisance if you are exposed and should be avoided.

   Speaking of which, as I said before, Cozumel is a great place to have fun and be safe at the same time. The legal drinking age in Mexico is 18, and therefore judgment is really in your own hands.

   Drinking is not a taboo in Mexico, and tequila and cerveza (Spanish for beer) are less expensive and easier to find than safe drinking water.

   As you walk past or into shops, many times you may be offered free tequila, or margaritas, or even cerveza, as a ploy to get you to step inside, see what the store has to offer, and hopefully take home a bottle of their finest (most expensive) tequila.

   If you’re looking to save some cash, this is an easy way to do it, and you may (if you’re 21 or older) find something you like to bring home with you. Cruise line policies on what you can bring back on board with you vary, so it is always good to ask.

   Remember to be responsible no matter where you go, and not to drive if you’ve had too much.

   For the less party hardy there are many more, equally-fun things to do on the island, from pristine beaches, Eco reserves, gift shopping, tours, dolphin encounters, and some of the best SCUBA diving and snorkeling in the Caribbean. Cozumel is home to a coral reef that can be reached by swimming from shore, and isn’t to be missed.

   The water in Mexico typically is far warmer than in Port Huron, so don’t be dissuaded if the locals tell you it’s cold. Be mindful of your travel, if you’re a SCUBA diver, of course don’t dive within 24 hours of a flight, and always be cautious of the coral which can be very fragile.

   The shopping can be some of the most fun you have on the island, with shops selling wares not typically available in the United States, but one must be cautious as to what they are buying.

   There are many “Cuban cigar” shops on the island, and even more jewelry stores, and either may have questionable merchandise. The Cuban cigars, besides being potentially fakes, are still not to be bought by Americans due to the trade embargo.

   Until this changes, buy at your own risk. The jewelry stores sell many pieces of silver jewelry, but the questionable merchandise is the black coral jewelry.

   Black coral isn’t technically illegal, but one can never be too sure of the harvesting methods with which they are made. It’s best to stay away from either of these if you are unsure.

   Finally regarding Cozumel is the food. Authentic Mexican is much different from the “Taco Hell” as Jose Carlos called it in America.

   Tortillas, beans, rice and chicken or another meat can be expected at a typical meal. The addition of salsa can add some spice to the dish, and authentic is usually very good. I, however, against the advice of the waiting staff, tried some green habanero sauce.

   “Oh you don’t want that, man, it’ll make you cry,” the local warned me. I tried it. He was right.

   As fun and exciting as Cozumel can be, you may find, as I did, that the cruise, itself is even better.

   In my 5 days aboard the “Grandeur of the Seas” I had more fun and met more cool people than I have in years. There is never a lack of things to do at sea, and you may find that there are not enough hours in the day to do everything you want to.

   Between the handfuls of bars, the casino, two restaurants, the rock wall, six hot tubs, two swimming pools, various clubs, arcade, gym, dance floor, library, card room, lounges and the theater there is never a dull moment.

   And even when there are worlds of things to do, you may find that the best and most memorable times are when you are doing nothing at all with some newfound friends.

   If you do what I did and spend most of your time lounging about in the hot tubs, you’re sure to meet some interesting people from all over the world.

   Donald Smith, 17, of Atlanta, Georgia; Candace and Caroline McCarthy, 16 and 14, sisters from New Jersey; John and Cody Consul, 20 and 17 of New York, all became part of my sort of misfit cruise family, along with Flor Zozaya, 15, and Macy Randrup, 14, of Argentina.

   We were all complete strangers at the start of the cruise, but quickly became the best of friends.

   Somewhere between the Quinceanera group from Argentina, Paul the belly flop contest gold medalist from Kitchener, Ontario, and the cruise staff from every island nation imaginable, I began to see the big picture and the world as a global community.

   When everyone is together trying to have a good time, you’d be surprised how much we have in common.

A couple pieces of advice for the cruise ship; bring clothes. This may seem rather obvious but there are times on the ship when to be dressed up is definitely a plus, and to have pants is a “requirement” to having dinner in the restaurants.

Multiple restaurants may end up having the same food, so if you don’t want to wait on being waited upon just head to the buffet. Sure it’s less “classy” but it will let you eat at your own schedule.

Use your towels in your bathroom, and then throw them on the floor when you are done, if you want housekeeping to keep you entertained every day. When housekeeping replaces your towels, many of them will leave them in the form of a different animal every day, always something to look forward to.

  There is a bottle opener affixed to the wall in the bathroom on some cruise lines. Look for it and you may be surprised.

   Be nice to your cruise attendants. You’ll likely have the same ones for the duration of the cruise and knowing them by name is a great way of showing them you appreciate what they do and they might let you get away with more.

   Courtesy is key on board. Asking politely for something may result in better results than anticipated. My group had a waiter who would bring us drinks in the hot tub so we didn’t have to move to get them.

Listen carefully and be aware of everything your ship has to offer. I was unaware until the end of the cruise that the indoor pool had a pizza snack bar in the back corner. Special events like dance classes, comedy shows, parties are happening all the time and will definitely make the trip worth the money.

   With careful planning, consideration and common sense, enjoy your spring break this year.

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